Until the mid-twentieth century, housework and gardening is often only seen in the background of paintings, as in most extended households the work was done by servants. But in the kinds of pictures that celebrate more humble lives – particularly those of the Dutch and Flemish sixteenth and seventeenth century – cooking and cleaning, childcare and laundry become more common subjects. These sometimes suggest the potential for illicit relationships between maid and master, or make fun of the ‘looser morals’ of the lower classes.
These subjects were revived in the ‘genre’ paintings of the nineteenth century, but these are usually deliberate celebrations of domestic virtues and a respectable life. Impressionists such as Monet, Renoir and Mary Cassat were also interested in both home life and gardens.